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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 28, 20172min4950

Ellen Golombek will be leaving her role as executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment at the end of October, the office of Gov. John Hickenlooper announced. The office issued a statement from Hickenlooper today crediting Golombek with having “transformed” the labor department since taking the helm in 2011. The statement said she will “pursue an opportunity with a national workforce advocacy agency.”

Hick praised Golombek at length:

“She brought together coalitions to advance workforce solutions, led regulatory reforms on behalf of business and created a culture of engagement and accountability within CDLE. She will be missed.”

According to the press release, Golombek implement a number of reforms during her tenure, including leading a 2012 effort to issue $625 million in unemployment compensation bonds so that the unemployment insurance trust fund would be solvent. That move turned off the solvency surcharge that had been assessed against Colorado businesses since 2004 and eliminated the interest payments on money borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits.

She has a long history in organized labor. She previously served 10 years as president of the Colorado AFL-CIO and before that worked with the Service Employees International Union. She was also National Political and Field Director for Planned Parenthood in Washington, D.C.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 7, 20175min85
Who owns embryos after a divorce? The answer isn’t simple. Sometime in the next year, the Colorado Supreme Court is taking up the first-ever challenge to a long-standing state law that keeps embryos from being implanted once a couple is divorced. Mandy and Drake Rooks have three children, the result of in-vitro fertilization. Mandy Rooks […]

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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 25, 201710min2490

The gloves are off and the fur is flying in the Republican primary for Colorado's next state treasurer. In a series of emails sent to state GOP activists and donors Thursday, state Rep. Polly Lawrence accused her fellow state treasurer candidate state Rep. Justin Everett and his allies — "his minions" was the phrase she used — of spreading lies and mounting "traitorous attacks" on her, while an independent expenditure committee backing Everett blasted Lawrence for "lying to get re-elected, only to conspire with liberals and vote like Democrats."


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 28, 20176min24413

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, said Friday that Democrats are “finally” admitting they need to work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to the nation’s health care system, adding that the failure by GOP senators to overturn the Affordable Care Act won’t stop efforts to replace the legislation, known as Obamacare.

“It’s frustrating that now the recent repeal and replace vote is over we are starting to finally hear supporters of the Affordable Care Act make some of the exact points about the problems with the Affordable Care Act that they attacked Republicans for making over the last few months,” said Gardner, who was one of 13 Republican senators tasked with writing the Senate’s version of health care legislation behind closed doors earlier this year. “We are finally starting to hear those that refused to work with Republicans admit that costs are going up under this law and something needs to be done to address it.”

He added that he’s “worked so hard to replace this government takeover of our healthcare for one reason and one reason only – my constituents.” Among the problems he listed under the Obamacare were “skyrocketing premiums,” nearly 150,000 Colorado residents who didn’t buy insurance coverage facing IRS fines and just one or two insurers offering plans in a majority of the state’s counties.

“The vote last night can’t stop this effort,” Gardner said. “I’ve always urged Democrats to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to find solutions that drives down costs and stabilizes the insurance market. I’m not going to stop trying to fix this healthcare problem, the status quo is unacceptable.”

His Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, for months has been blasting Senate Republicans for drafting their legislation in secret and without input from Democrats. On Thursday, before the final cliffhanger vote that killed the last GOP bill up for debate this week, he excoriated Republicans for declining to hold a single committee hearing on the legislation before proceeding to votes on the floor.

“Talk about ‘read the bill,’ how about have a bill that’s written down on paper so we can read it? Where are my brethren in the Tea Party that wanted to read the other bill?” he said in a speech on the Senate floor, referring to complaints made by conservatives when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. “There was a bill then. There had been a bill for a year and a half. There’s no bill! There’s no bill.”

A month ago, Bennet called in another speech on the Senate floor for Republicans to bring Democrats into their discussions on the legislation.

“I am all for working together in a bipartisan way to address the issues in our healthcare system — that go far beyond the Affordable Care Act — to make sure people in America do not have to continue to make choices other people all over the world are not having to make,” he said.

Senate Democrats have been imploring GOP leaders to open up the process and work across the aisle for months.

In a January letter, for instance, Bennet and a dozen other moderate Democrats wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and two powerful committee chairs, “We remain committed to improving the (Affordable Care Act), and we urge you to work with us now — to increase affordability for families, protect communities, help small businesses, and continue important protections for the most vulnerable.” In March, Bennet was among 42 Senate Democrats who asked House Republicans to open up the process. “Instead of supporting a fatally-flawed, incomplete, partisan bill, we hope you will take us up on our sincere offer to improve health care for all Americans,” they wrote.

Gardner voted with most of his fellow Republicans on every key vote this week, including casting votes to repeal major provisions of Obamacare without replacing them, to repeal the health care law and replace it with a new plan and to repeal the individual and employer mandates under Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.

That last vote, on legislation called the “skinny” repeal, went down by a single vote after midnight Thursday night when Arizona Sen. John McCain joined Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to scotch it. (The GOP holds a 52-48 majority in the Senate so could only afford to lose two votes, with Vice President Mike Pence on hand to cast a tie-breaking vote.)



Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 4, 20177min1231

President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday, but the long-awaited decree was perplexing to advocates on both sides of the issue in Colorado, but not for two Colorado pastors who witnessed the signing in the Rose Garden.

The order, however, did little to decide the most contentious issues around religious liberty. It says nothing about religion as a basis for denying public accommodations or services for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. It doesn’t address hiring practices that exclude single parents, because of an employer’s religious beliefs.

Under the order, religious organizations could theoretically get more involved in politics without risking their tax-exempt status, and the government might not be able to require health care plans to cover contraceptives, as Obamacare mandated.

Trump’s order, however, doesn’t carry the weight of law, and the administration hasn’t said how government agencies would carry out the president’s directive under current laws.

While his order strikes at the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt churches  from getting involved in politics, it does not repeal it.

Trump said he would direct the Internal Revenue Service to ease up on enforcing the amendment’s rules in the name of political free speech.

“You’re now in a position to say what you want to say … No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors,” Trump said.

Two Colorado pastors were among a group of Christian leaders invited to the White House Thursday.

“I don’t have to worry what I speak in the pulpit. I can speak my heart and not have to be afraid that they will take me to court or take away my 501(c)3 (charity status),” said the Rev. Christine Coleman of Denver-based Blazing Holy Fire Church.

“There can be no victory without God. Great things were made today.”

Fr. Andre “Abouna” Mahanna had a “beautiful chat” under the balcony at the back of the White House, said Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Catholic Church in Lakewood.

“I think the president succeeded and reasserted the foundational Judeo-Christian principles of our American way of life,” he said. “… The rules of the president are assuring the nation we are one nation under God, people of prayer in America and people who choose not to pray.”

The Rev. Brady Boyd, senior pastor of New Life Church, said he’s never felt constrained by the Johnson Amendment, even when that message touches on or is informed the political arena. But such a topic is never at the core of his message, though, he said.

“We’ve always had mandate to put aside personal preferences to preach a greater truth,” said Boyd, who said he had never endorsed a political candidate. “I feel like pastors have a sacred duty to preach the scriptures. We have a greater truth to proclaim than politics and I’ve always felt the freedom to do it. When people hear a sermon at New Life Church, they’re “going to hear a lot about Jesus and not a lot about politics.”

He doesn’t expect much of a change.

“There are pastors in our city who have endorsed candidates and would speak out on a particular political party and they’ve done that in spite of the law,” he said. “I think pastors feel pretty emboldened to speak out about what they feel called to speak about.

“I can honestly say in the 20-plus years of pastoring I’ve never stood in the pulpit and had one thought about the IRS.”

The Family Policy Alliance, the public policy arm of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, said the president could only do so much, and that Congress needs to step up.

“Part of religious freedom means not being forced to fund practices that directly conflict with one’s sincerely held beliefs,” said Paul Weber, the alliance’s president and CEO.

“This means taxpayer-funded elective abortion, including abortifacient drugs, must end, including taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. This also means that the Trump Administration must ensure that employers and charities like Little Sisters of the Poor are no longer required to fund contraceptives and abortifacient drugs that conflict with their beliefs through employee healthcare plans.”

The curbs on insured contraceptives struck a sour note with Democrats who have worked to advance issues around reproductive rights.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, a declared candidate for Congress next year, sponsored bipartisan legislation awaiting the governor’s signature, to allow women to get a year’s supply of a prescribed contraceptive with one visit to a pharmacy.

“Trump and the Republicans in Congress are waging all-out war on Coloradans, and especially Colorado women, with today’s repeal of the (Affordable Care Act), and now this ridiculous executive order legalizing discrimination,” she said. “The executive order allows corporations to discriminate against people based on their religion, sexual orientation or gender, and it dangerously jeopardizes access to contraception and other reproductive healthcare for all women in Colorado.

“I’ve been fighting for better access to contraceptives and reproductive services for my whole career, and I’ll continue to do so when I get to Washington.”

Editor’s Note: Stephanie Earls of the Colorado Springs Gazette contributed heavily to this story.